Karsten Solheim

Karsten Solheim (September 15, 1911 – February 16, 2000,) a Norwegian-born American was a golf club designer and businessman.  He was the founder of Karsten Manufacturing, a leading golf club maker better known by its brand name of PING, and the Solheim Cup, the premier International Team Competition in Women’s Golf.  He resided and grew up in Seattle in the Ballard neighborhood.  His father, Herman, was a shoe maker.  Later, Karsten became a mechanical engineer with a degree from the University of Washington.

Apparently, the family had property here near Suquamish and they spent many happy summer days here on this side of the water.  Karsten’s idea was to want to contribute this community in some way.  (At that time, before Clear Water Casino, the Suquamish tribe was struggling economically.  Thus, he constructed a small shopping area along Suquamish Way and opened a ‘fancy’ restaurant named Karsten’s, featuring local and specialty sea foods.  I often went there for lunch for their freshly concocted daily seafood and/or other kinds of chowders.  Often I’d sit and visit with Karsten since he was one of my regular patients.  His restaurant would feature week-end seafood specials as ‘all you can eat’ buffet at a ‘price loser’ cost of $16.95 for the public.  Customers formed long lines.  As it was by far the best eating establishment on this side of the water.

Once I introduced Mr. Solheim to my father and showed Dad all the photos Karsten had on display with the famous golfers, such as Palmer, Nicklaus, Player, and even Presidents’ Nixon and Kennedy.  Karsten asked if Dad and I played.  I answered that I was too busy and my Dad was too old.  Karsten  gave us his personal card and insisted that if ever we should take a trip south and visit his facilities in Phoenix that he’d have his staff fit each of us a custom set of his best clubs free!  I have always remembered fondly of this kind and friendly gentleman.  I appreciated that he respected me to treating his vision issues.

In the late 1997’s, his health began to fail and I lost track of him.  In 1999 his company was restructured and must have felt a fiduciary responsibility to not operate the restaurant at a loss.  They sold the establishment to Leo and Lena Ward who ran the place for only one year and closed what they had renamed ‘Doc Marlins’.  The place later was transformed into a school and now has become a part of the Suquamish Tribe property.

On our island, we have had for years held the biggest ‘garage/yard’ sale in the USA (if not the world) sponsored by the Rotary Club of Bainbridge.  As I was thinking more about retiring and picking up the sport of golf,  I couldn’t help but regret not heeding Mr. Karsten Solheim’s advice of getting a set of his clubs.  A few years later, at one of the Rotary auctions,  Linnea who was volunteering there called me at to say that there was a silent auction item of what she deemed a complete and almost new Ping Golf Clubs.

I hurried over, examined the clubs, and found them to be almost new and barely used.  For Karsten’s sake, this was my fate; as a tribute to him I have to get these clubs for whatever the price, besides, the contribution was for a good cause that we strongly supported.  The starting bid was $400.  I put my name down and called my brother Dan, who is a good golfer.  I asked how did the quality of Ping Clubs compare with others and what should be a reasonable price.  He told me that they are considered semi-fitted to individuals and run at that time about $1000 for the irons and extra for the ‘Woods’ which could cost over $500 more.  With this information I checked my bid frequently.  There was another man, about 6’ 3’’ also eyeing this set.  He kept on raising me by $5.  And I kept playing the game by raising his bid by $25.  Finally when the bid reached $700, frustratingly he asked me ‘do you know what these clubs are and how high will you go?’  I answered; I’ll be always going $25 more than you.  Out of exasperation, he walked away.  I bought the entire grouping for $700.

Excitedly, after coming home, I called my son David, and announced that I bought a set of Pings and would like him to start me off with some pointers.  David is a very good athletic and quite a decent golfer.  He said, great Dad, when can we play and what color are they?  Make sure that they are all the colored the same.  I asked what?  They are irons and are all silver metal color.  David said go see; there are markers on the clubs, Pings are semi-customized a golfer’s height.  For my size, I should be using RED or ORANGE.

I quickly ran to the garage and checked.  Surely enough, the clubs were all marked, with a green indentation.  I told this to David; he said greens are designed for people 6’ 2-3’’ and that I needed Reds because I was only 5’ 4’’.

That competitor probably did not know either, or if he’d explained that to me I would not have been so stubborn and stupid.  No wonder he was fuming, irritated and angry at me!!!  The clubs went back to the Rotary auction the next year!

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